What looked like a cool-headed decision by Matt Hendricks in the first period might well have been the reason the Capitals eked out their seventh straight win Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Late in the first period, Tampa’s B.J. Crombeen appeared to take issue with a hit Hendricks laid on a Tampa player, but Hendricks seemingly refused to engage. Seconds later, the puck had already made it to the other end of the ice, where Jack Hillen gave Washington a two-goal lead.
It’s likely that, had Hendricks dropped the gloves, the Capitals would have lost the momentum and positioning that led to Hillen’s goal. And Washington would need every one of those goals by the end of the game, after Tampa erased a four-goal deficit to send the game into overtime.
During the scoreboard roller coaster, no one was more in tune with his linemates last night than Mathieu Perreault, who had perfectly placed assists on goals by Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera. On the Chimera goal, Perreault could have passed for James Bond on ice, the puck traveling from Chimera to Perreault and back seamlessly as the two bore down on Tampa goalie Mathieu Garon(starting goalie Ben Bishop was pulled at the beginning of the second). Keeping up with Chimera’s speed enough to be in the play requires hustle, and Perreault proved up to the challenge. He showed an uncanny sense of where his teammates were going to be, and the Capitals were two goals the better for it.
Other bright sides for the Capitals weren’t perhaps as pretty. Steve Oleksy took a high stick to the face, but, in typical hockey fashion, came back into the game after getting stitched up. He finished the game with two assists and was on the ice for only one of Tampa’s goals against, no mean feat when the end score is 6-5.
Oleksy estimates he’s probably gotten stitches about 20 times in his hockey career, with 13 or 14 of those coming in the past two years.
“A lot of people don’t even recognize me without stitches somewhere, or a black eye,” he said after the game.
With something like a hard high stick to the face, Oleksy says, the challenge to playing on isn’t as much about pain as it is being shaken up and feeling slightly out of it. So he said he tried to keep it simple for the rest of the game.
Despite a productive offense, which saw a goal by Ovechkin and the game winner by Green, the game was not one the Capitals are likely to consider their finest of the season, thanks to blowing that four-goal lead. But it was an excellent reminder of how much fun this team is to watch when the offense hits its stride. It was also a great reminder of how often this team lets its opponents back into the game.
But for now, the Capitals have once again made the turnaround from one of the worst teams in the NHL to sitting atop their division.